Cyber security degree folded up sitting next graduation cap

While having a technology degree from a big-name school like Stanford or MIT can guarantee you job interviews, there are plenty of lesser-known schools that are easier to get into, more affordable and potentially better at meeting your personal learning needs and career goals.

Which under-the-radar colleges are worthy of consideration? Here’s a short list of contenders, along with some criteria for creating your own list.

Factors to Consider

Finding a school that is truly a hidden gem starts with goal alignment, explained Bill Staib, co-founder and CEO of College Raptor, a rating service and creator of the “Hidden Gems” college rankings.

For instance, if you want to become a data scientist, computer research scientist or consultant, look for a school that specializes in preparing students for postgraduate degrees, Staib noted. However, if your ultimate goal is to land an entry-level job after graduation, look for a school that offers frequent interaction with faculty, hands-on projects, internships and a high job placement rate.

Use admission statistics and student characteristics data to guide your search, advised Andrew Belasco, CEO of College Transitions, a college admissions consulting firm.

Some schools are not only hard to get into, but you have to compete against students who have been programming since high school for research projects or faculty mentors, Belasco cautioned.

“Proximity to a major tech hub matters, too, since many area companies actively recruit from local colleges,” he added. For example, San Jose State, which has a 64 percent acceptance rate, provides more workers to Silicon Valley companies than any other university.

Another key thing to consider is what Staib calls the “true net price.” For example, based on his calculations, an education at an expensive private school where most students receive financial aid and high starting salaries can actually be cheaper than going to a state school in the long run.

Under-the-Radar Schools

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

With an acceptance rate around 77 percent, you stand a good chance of getting into this small private school known for its highly regarded engineering and CS programs. In fact, U.S. News & World Report ranked Rose-Human No. 1 among U.S. engineering colleges, while PayScale ranked it No. 11 nationally for Best Value Private Colleges.

Colorado College

For students who need to juggle school with work or prefer to focus on learning one computer science concept or programming language at a time, Colorado College’s block plan gives you the ability to take just one class at a time, typically for 3.5 weeks. Colorado College had a total undergraduate enrollment of 2,025—and a 14 percent acceptance rate—in 2020.

Cornell College

Cornell College of Iowa also offers a “one course at a time schedule,” allowing students to participate in hands-on activities while taking computer science coursework. While you might suffer from sticker shock after seeing its $47,100 annual tuition, note that 99 percent of Cornell students receive financial assistance that reduces their overall bill.

Missouri University of Science and Technology

Best known for engineering, Missouri S&T offers 101 degrees, including bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer engineering and computer science. Missouri S&T was rated the No. 1 Public Engineering Program for ROI by College Factual and the Most Value-Added University by Brookings Institution.

Arizona State University

With an 86 percent acceptance rate and numerous nationally ranked undergraduate engineering and computer science programs and specialties, it’s no wonder that ASU tops College Transitions’ list of best computer science programs for “B” students.

Rochester Institute of Technology

With a 66 percent acceptance rate and a 98 percent employment rate for graduates, RIT is another great option for “B” students, according to College Transitions. The school also supports experiential learning through labs, assignments and projects outside the classroom.

The University of Texas at Dallas

UniversityHQ ranks the software engineering program at UT Dallas 16th in the Top 100 Affordable Software Engineering Programs in the U.S. With a 79 percent acceptance rate, guaranteed tuition rate for four consecutive years, and 100 percent job placement for CS graduates, UT Dallas may be one of the best programs you’ve never heard of.

University of Massachusetts Amherst

The University of Massachusetts’ College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS) has a 64 percent acceptance rate and offers BA, BS, MS and PhD degrees. In fact, CISC has one of the highest ranked and most competitive graduate programs in the nation.

University of Colorado Boulder

Some 78 percent of applicants are accepted and can earn a BS or a BA degree in computer science and engineering. As seniors, BS students complete a yearlong capstone project, allowing them to gain hands-on experience and make professional connections.

George Mason University

Six George Mason programs, including engineering, made the list of most diverse and innovative programs, according to the latest rankings by U.S. News & World Report. With in-state tuition and fees at $13,119 and an acceptance rate of 89 percent, obtaining a BS in computer science or an inter-disciplinary BS in applied computer science is within reach for most students.

University of Utah

The University of Utah’s School of Computing ranks No. 25 in the nation according to CSRankings. Even better, U.S. residents can apply for free, 62 percent are accepted, and in-state tuition is just $8,247 per year.